DIY specialist and renovator Natasha Dickins from Little Red Industries shows how to flex your woodworking skills to install built-in seating with wow factor (and extra storage!).
Sitting in a booth or banquette makes you feel part of something special. It’s cosy, comfy and casual, and that’s how I wanted this dining area to be. I also wanted to create storage while hiding the phone line, modem and switches in the corner of the room.
The kitchen facing the dining area was recently renovated. To help the rooms feel cohesive I used Tasmanian oak in both, with the same woodworking techniques to round over the edges and corners, sealing it in clear marine-grade Monocel Gold varnish for a smooth-but-durable finish.
TIP Read more about how to make timber the star of your kitchen.
The build begins with white Multistore Storage single-drawer flatpack units, the perfect size to frame up for seating (608mm wide x 430mm deep x 330mm high). It ends with a box shelf for books to fill the gap between the seat and the wall.
TIP The corner is clad in Porta 30mm-wide Tasmanian oak half-round dowel, creating an elegant curve to match the slope of the backrests and a fluted feature that’s repeated on the end of the banquette.
For the joinery, I picked up seven off-the-shelf timber panels at Bunnings (about $65 each), and based the design around the standard 22mm-thick, 1800mm-long x 405mm-wide dimensions. I bought two for the seats, two for backrests, one to cut the the aprons and shelves, one to laminate for the corner shelf and seat, and one for the box shelf.
TIP For a different finish, find similar from 18mm to 26mm thick.
Making a template helped me work out how far from the wall the cabinets should be, the angle of the backrests and the shelf depth along the top. I also used it to mark out the framing.
TIP The backrests are angled at 10°, which is an easy setting on most saws. Anything in this build that slopes, including the dowel in the corner, has a bevelled edge of 10°.
After removing the drawers, I joined the cabinets, drilling through with 30mm screws. The units are much lighter to move around without the drawers.
TIP The cabinet sides are 15mm thick so don’t over-screw, or use 25mm screws to avoid protruding through the other side.
The cabinets aren’t originally designed to take heavy weight, so I’ve reinforced them with a frame built using 35mm x 70mm treated pine. Framing is secured to wall studs with 50mm batten bugle-head screws, then I positioned framing over the joins and ends so they’re supported by the sides of the cabinets. I also ran framing around the wall for the backrests, packing it out in sections for extra support.
TIP Use a stud finder to locate the wall studs and mark them with tape. When setting out the framing, check the cabinets are totally supported and won’t move.
To minimise dust and noise, I moved the woodworking outside, setting up the panels on sawhorses and cutting them with a track saw angled at 10°. To make the backrest shelves, I cut 90mm boards with one bevelled edge.
TIP The panel edges are bevelled so the backrests sit neatly against the back of the seats, and the front of the shelf compliments the angle.
To make 70mm-wide aprons for under the seats, I cut a panel lengthways, then countersunk predrilled holes, securing with adhesive and screws, clamping to dry. Then I secured the shelves to the backrests, clamping to dry.
TIP Bondall’s Bondcrete is my go-to adhesive as it provides a strong bond, dries clear and fairly quickly, and is easy to sand.
To brace the corner, I made a box from framing, securing it to the cabinets and into wall studs. To create curved braces for the dowel, I made a template from scrap plywood, using it to mark up a top and base on 15mm plywood, bevelling the edge with a jigsaw set at 10°. I positioned the base brace in line with the back of the seats.
TIP The framing here also supports the corner seat, which lifts out for access to the phone line and switches.
To create the 650mm-square of timber needed to cut the corner shelf and seat, I joined two panel pieces side-by-side. I drew the curve using the template then made the bevelled cut with the jigsaw. I glued the top brace under the corner shelf, 16mm in from the edge, to allow for the dowel and a backing of 4mm-thick flexible plywood.
TIP If you have the tools and the time it’s worth using biscuits to reinforce the panel join. I simply used adhesive and reinforced it with an offcut underneath.
I set up a drill with a 60mm holesaw and arbor to make the hole for a 60mm cable duct into in the back corner of the shelf. The first half of the cut is made from the top, then I flipped the shelf over to finish drilling from underneath to avoid breakout.
TIP Position the hole at least 40mm from the edges to allow for the framing underneath.
The seats and backrests were attached to the framing through countersunk holes so they could be covered with filler later. Then I marked up and cut the corner seat, adding an apron underneath.
TIP Use a pencil to mark the edges to be rounded-over, including along the front of the seat and shelf. Avoid rounding edges butting against other pieces, such as the seat against the bookshelf.
Using a random orbital sander with 180-grit abrasive disc, I round-over the edges and corners and smoothed the countersunk holes, repeating with 240-grit. Varnish was then applied with a mini mohair roller and left it to dry thoroughly. Next day, I lightly sanded all over with 240-grit, wiped away the dust, and applied a second coat of varnish, leaving to dry overnight.
TIP When dry, install the seats, backrests and corner shelf with 10G x 40mm screws through the predrilled holes, then cover the holes with timber filler.
To cover the end of the banquette, I cut dowel to fit under the seat and backrest, positioning the first piece flush with the edge of the cabinet, working towards the wall. The last piece didn’t quite fit, so I sanded the edges to make it slimmer. Each piece is secured to the cabinet and framing with adhesive and 15mm brads, shot into the side of the dowel using a nail gun with an air compressor.
TIP Position cardboard or 4mm plywood underneath to catch any adhesive drips.
To apply varnish, I used the mini mohair roller, pulling it down between the dowel, then turning it to smooth over the front, leaving to dry overnight before sanding lightly with 240-grit and applying a second coat.
TIP While the roller is loaded, dab the tip over the filled screws along the self and seat to seal the filler with varnish.
For the curved feature, 4mm flexible plywood was fitted into the frame (from Mr Ply&Wood), secured with adhesive and small screws, which were removed once the adhesive had dried. I set the mitre saw to 10° and cut the dowel to length, using a clamp as a guide, then secured with adhesive and brads.
TIP To minimise the gaps along the top of the starburst shape, sand the sides of the dowel, from the base up to about 150mm to splay the pieces outwards. Dry-fit with tape to check they fit before securing.
To hide the brads in the dowel, I dabbed timber filler over them, left it to dry, then sanded away the excess and wiped all over with a damp cloth before applying two coats of varnis, leaving to dry after each.
TIP Between coats of varnish, cover the tray with plastic wrap and keep the roller in a zip-lock bag to prevent them from drying out.
To fill the space between the banquette and the wall, I made a simple box from one of the panels and installed it on framing with a kickboard of painted pine. It was varnished, then simply slipped into the space to sit 100mm higher than the seat.
TIP My favourite part of this project is the rich timber finish. The key is to apply the Monocel Gold varnish, leave it to dry, then lightly sand with 240-grit and wipe clean before applying the next coat. It gives a smooth, professional finish that protects against scratches and moisture.
Have you installed a fluted timber feature at home? Be sure to post it on Facebook and Instagram, tagging @bondall.au, @monocel.timbercare and @littleredindustries. We love to see your projects!